Sticks in the flower bed
If you've been a pastor, teacher, or spiritual leader for more than fifteen minutes you know the frustration of preparing and delivering a faithful message or lesson with little or no response. Yes, dear kingdom coach or mentor, we all know the verses about planting, watering, and growing a crop, the parable of the soils, and the vibrant character of the seed that is ours to sow. Few of us would ever doubt His sovereign leadership over our lives and His promised presence as we fulfill the preaching/teaching element central to our service. Just the same, hopeful, expectant servants who have prayed fervently and prepared thoroughly are often disappointed when our efforts seem to produce so little fruit.
Thank you Barnabas for reminding me that planted seed doesn't yield fruit instantly. I've gotten caught in the crossfire of the culture wars and expect the thirty-second sound bite to define church life too. So, when the invitation is offered at the conclusion of the service or while standing at the door, I'm typically expecting some instant feedback on the message or lesson for the day. Sometimes even a gesture to let me know it was in ballpark would help. I remember one Sunday when a visitor in our last church said, "Now that was a sermon", as he shook my hand at the door. Six or seven years later I'm still pondering that one.
Three demons were always crouching at the door of my preaching post-mortems. One sought to snatch away my confidence in the Word of God and have me rely on fun and games as a way into and out of the preaching theme for the day. They would have at least produced some laughs, a nice break in the monotony of the preaching hour. The second tried to steal my sense of value in the preaching event. In this instance I would have joined the priests in Malachi's prophecy who spoke against God by saying, "It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking in mourning as before the Lord of hosts?" (Malachi 3:14, ESV). They wanted to know, what's the use? Then, the third whispered to me that such in-depth prayer and preparation weren't necessary. It would be a lot less stressful to just go with the flow. I had plenty of old sermons anyway.
If you're a preacher, Bible teacher, ministry leader, or serve in a variety of spiritual leadership positions you know the routine. And, you know the answers---
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return
there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to
the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from
my mouth; it shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that
which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and
exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2, ESV
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9, ESV
A couple of years ago my dad, who we fondly refer to as The Chester, gave me a very vivid illustration of the value of preaching. Now, he was in the insurance business and was not a pastor or preacher. He was a great public speaker in his day and inspired many life underwriters with great lessons from Scripture. Throughout his life, his yard was his off the clock passion. He had a green thumb and could grow anything. And, still can. One year our collie dog was sleeping in the flowerbeds and destroying some of dad's pet projects. So, dad broke off some tree limbs and plugged them in the ground to keep the dog from taking a nap on top of dad's plants. They were just sticks in the flower beds. You know what? Those sticks took root and budded. They weren't seeds and weren't planted for growth. They were just ugly sticks, bent and broken, scrap. But, they budded and grew into trees. None of us could believe it.
Like some preaching and teaching, those sticks in the flower beds grew into trees.
My point? Even when I least expected it, when my efforts didn't yield fruit in that instant, God could make it grow. That's the truth of faithful Bible centered preaching and teaching.
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God
who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:7, ESV
That's what I'm talking about. Sticks in the flowerbed.